First Week

CPSC 481
Foundations of HCI
Saul Greenberg, Instructor

Notes for Teaching Assistants Lab 1

CPSC 481 is a demanding but interesting course to TA. Unlike most CPSC courses, assignments have a large non-programming and writing component.

This (and other documents) introduces you to your role as a TA in 481. It will detail what you will cover in labs and when student assignments and milestones are due. It will also indicate my expectations of you and of students, and how you will guide and grade students.

Your first lab session

Materials you will need:

  • overhead (book it with Communications Media for every lab)
  • the 681 TA binding, including:
    • transparencies (Library task descriptions Pdf or Powerpoint) and walkthrough [Pdf or Powerpoint] )
    • notes page that accompany the transparencies (also online task descriptions and walkthrough)
  • sheet for recording group assignments, with the headings:
    • group number <Section-groupid> eg B01-1 (1st group in Lab BO1)
    • student names and IDs
    • student email addresses

To do: The first lab is a long one, as you have to introduce yourself, set the ground rules, and get them started on assignment 1. Make sure the following points are covered.


  • Introduce yourself
  • Give students your office location, phone number, and office hours
  • All labs are essential. A student's success on the assignment will depend heavily on coming to labs for clarification and discussion of assignment material.
  • There will be occasional weeks when no lab will be held. In this case, students will be told of this in advance (preliminary lab dates and activities are on their schedule, which is included in the course notes). In those days, the TA will be available in their office for consultation during lab time.


  • Students must work in groups of three. Groups of other sizes must get special permission of the professor (who will only give it if there are an odd number of students in the lab). Under no condition will groups of one or four be allowed. Groups will do their work together, and will hand in a joint submission.
  • If friction develops between group members (e.g. if a member is not carrying their load) inform the TA or the professor immediately. In extreme circumstances, student contributions will be grades separately. However, this will not be done if problems are reported well after the fact.
  • Groups may change their membership between assignments (although this is discouraged, especially for the project!).
  • Cross-lab groups will be allowed only if no other arrangement is possible, and only by permission of the TAs in both labs.

Grading and due dates

  • Marking is hard.
  • Reminder: students must pass the assignment component to pass the course.
  • Assignments have a major writing component to them. All write-ups are expected to be professional in appearance, grammar, and writing style. Excellent English is the norm. Poorly written documents and/or sloppy submissions will be failed no matter how good the technical content.
  • The final project (assignment 3) contains a programming component. Excellent program structure and documentation is expected. Poor / sloppy code will be penalized. All programs must be demonstrable. A program that does not execute will be given an F. It is the groups responsibility to code in small achievable steps.
  • If you have a legitimate grievance with your grade, you must write a paper note documenting the problem, and hand in the note plus the assignment you did to the TA to review (the main office will put it in their box). If you are not satisfied with the TA's response, ask that the packet be sent to the professor. We guarantee to listen, but we do not guarantee to change anything! Under no conditions will our expectations be relaxed.
  • Due dates are strictly enforced. Late assignments will not be accepted without medical documentation.
  • Repeat the above; we are serious about this!


  • Assignment details will be discussed in labs.
  • Assignment 1: Task Centered Design and Prototyping (13%). This assignment is a hands-on exercise on applying task-centered system design methods and low fidelity prototyping methods to the design of a particular system. The deliverables will include a well-structured design portfolio as well as presentations in labs. Its immediate purpose is to give you experience at:
    • articulating good task descriptions
    • using the task descriptions to decide upon system requirements,
    • brainstorming low fidelity prototypes based upon the above, and
    • conducting a task-centered walk-through.
  • Assignment 2: Evaluation through usability studies (12%). This assignment will have each group use qualitative evaluation methods to unearth problems in a major software system. The group will deliver a report that discusses the methods employed, that highlights the general faults of the system, and that suggests recommendations for improvements.
  • Assignment 3: Iterative design project (25%). The group will continue Assignment 1 through the rest of an interface design cycle. Deliverables, spread over time, are documented in the portfolio and presented in lab. These include:
    • prototype redesigns
    • system implementation
    • summaries of evaluations and design critiques
    • a demonstration of a robust working system,


  • At this point, you should give students a 5 minute break, where they divide up into groups.
  • Have a sheet of paper ready for them to indicate their group members, names, ids, and email adresses. Assign each group a unique number prefixed by your lab section. This number is used to identify groups and subjects in the first experiment.
  • If problems exist that you cannot handle, have the individuals or groups contact the professor immediately.

Assignment 1 introduction

  • Tell them that the general ideas behind task centered system design will be discussed in class
  • Remind them that their assignment and accompanying readings contain many important details. They must read them.
  • Tell students exactly what you want them to do and when. (See the schedule in the class booklet!)
    • Steps 1-3 of the assignment should be done before the next lab
    • In the next lab, students will present (informally) their choice of project, along with some sample tasks and system requirements. This is a reality check, where the TA will indicate if the student is way off base. There may even be class discussion of the task and the choice of requirements. PS Its ok if a student project is similar to others, as then students can learn from each other
    • Students will then do steps 4-5 before the 3rd lab, and they will present the prototype as well as walkthrough summary in lab.
    • During all this time, students will be writing up the portfolio
  • Describe the format of the portfolio
    • 1" 3-ring binder
    • Indexed and labeled section separators
    • cover of binder should include project title, student names, ids, group number, contact phone numbers, and email
    • 1st page an extensible table of contents
    • 2nd page the grading sheet
    • must be very neat, and organized. We will not grade poorly organized and/or messy portfolios.
    • typeset
  • Present the overheads, which detail the steps as well as indicate what will have to be in the report. Tell them these overheads are available on their assignment page, and in more detail on TA section of the course home page.
  • Tell students what you will cover it the next lab.
    • you will lead a discussion when students do their presentations
    • You will give them more background on prototyping
    • You will give an example prototype for the library system and do a walkthrough with one of the tasks